VIRGINIA BEACH – The Rev. Pieri Burton, a Strawbridge resident who serves as associate pastor of Christian Way Ministries in Virginia Beach, said he is among the candidates who will try to unseat incumbent City Councilmember Barbara Henley this year.
Burton, 40, is the second challenger who has announced that they will seek the Princess Anne District seat against Henley, a Pungo farmer who has represented the southern area of the city for much of the past four decades.
Burton ran unsuccessfully against Henley four years ago. Henley won roughly three out of every four votes.
“The reason I ran was because they didn’t fix my road,” Burton said, adding that a neighborhood concern that was resolved by the city only after community persistence and news coverage. “That was a catalyst.”
Burton, who has been involved in local Republican politics, said this run for office would be better-funded than his effort four years ago, when he was vastly outspent by Henley. During his initial run, Burton said, he learned a great deal about how the city works and became more active in local matters.
In addition to Henley, Burton would face Tim Worst, a Lago Mar resident who heads up law enforcement sales for a tactical equipment company.
The district includes most of the main coverage area for The Independent News. Voters from around the city can vote in all council district and at-large elections.
People interested in running for City Council have until June to file paperwork for candidacy. Burton said he has not yet filed to run.
Burton was born in Texas, and, as part of a military family, lived in California and Maryland’s Eastern Shore before his family settled in Strawbridge in the 1980s, moving into the third house in their neighborhood.
He graduated Kellam High School in 1995 and studied computer networking at Tidewater Community College, though he did not finish a degree. Burton bought his family home from his mother and stepfather when he was 21.
Burton has 17 years of experience in the real estate business, including time as a loan officer until the market crashed. He also has worked in insurance and presently works with Wainwright Realty as a real estate sales agent.
Burton said he is especially proud of his work with the church, built from a small gathering of seven people meeting in homes to a storefront nondenominational church on Euclid Drive that grew to 70 strong in a matter of three years – and soon will move into a new 2,800 square foot location, doubling its size.
Showing photos of work at that Newtown Plaza site, he quipped, “I do construction, too.”
Burton has served as chair of the Virginia Beach Young Republicans, and he is active in mentoring with the Men of Distinction, which works with youth in public schools.
Burton said priorities as a candidate include looking out for business owners, including reconsidering business, professional and occupational license taxes, which “tax earnings you haven’t made.” He supports improving local infrastructure, economic development projects outside the Oceanfront area, more affordable housing for working people and developing incubators for business.
He also said he has sought office to make the process of running easier for others, noting the lack of diversity on the City Council.
“That’s obvious,” he said.
He supports a system in which district voters, rather than voters from across the city, choose district representatives. It makes it easier for people to run for office if they can spend locally rather than across the city, he said.
“Yes,” he said. “The Princess Anne District should vote for the Princess Anne District.”
Burton, like Worst, noted that Henley has participated in the agricultural reserve program, which she has championed. The program pays for development rights in order to make land economically viable for continued farm production.
He said he supports the program, but felt Henley should not participate while in office. However, he said he supported preservation of land in the rural area of the city.
“It may not be the best land to continue to build upon,” he said.
He said he is not opposed to economic development, but he wants to ensure the city deals fairly and that projects are fair for the citizens.
He supports projects that bring in jobs and supports small businesses.
“I believe in public-private partnerships that will help all in the city,” he said.
Burton discussed legal and financial challenges, including a previously-reported misdemeanor conviction for obstruction of justice in 2009 that followed a traffic stop for an expired inspection. Burton said the charge resulted from his refusal to get out of his car when he was ordered to do so, which he said was an unjust response to a driving infraction.
This past year, Burton was ordered to pay a fine and court costs after being charged with reckless driving for speeding, according to an online court record.
“I was running late for church,” he said. “I had to preach that Sunday, too.”
Burton filed for bankruptcy in 2008, according to federal court records, repaying some debts before converting a Chapter 13 proceeding to a Chapter 7. “That’s been resolved,” he said. “That was when I owned 10 properties and the real estate market tanked.”
He initiated a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding in 2015, court records show, but the matter was resolved without being finalized through the courts. Burton said it was related to the earlier filing.
“If anything it makes me more qualified,” Burton said, regarding whether these matters affect his ability to serve on the Virginia Beach City Council. “I’ve been through some trials.”
They made him a better minister, he added. “I can empathize. I’ve been there, too. I’m still here.”
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